The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and the rest of the churches in the Diocese will be closed until further notice due to the coronavirus. (Mike Matvey photo)
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and the rest of the churches in the Diocese will be closed until further notice due to the coronavirus. (Mike Matvey photo)

In an historic announcement, the Diocese of Albany has canceled all public Masses until further notice, in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which poses serious - and potentially fatal - health risks.

Due to the growing concern, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger made the announcement, which does not apply to weddings and funerals, Monday, March 16. Churches will, however, remain open for private prayer, pending further regulations.

In addition, all Confirmations have been canceled until further notice and will be rescheduled. Funerals and weddings may be attended only by close family and in accordance with social distancing and capacity requirements. Further restrictions may force a change in those guidelines as we go forward.

“Although we know how difficult it is for Catholics to be without the Mass and without the Eucharist, we must do our part to help ‘flatten the curve’ and stop the spread of COVID-19 in order to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Scharfenberger said when making the announcement. “I encourage the faithful to pray and fast as we continue our journey through this season of Lent. Try to include at least 15 minutes of daily intentional prayer, with family where possible and safe. Use the Bible, say the Rosary, watch Mass on TV, and please remember to pray for those who are suffering from the Coronavirus worldwide and for all those in the medical community who are on the front lines.”

The Diocese of Albany is keeping Catholics apprised of changes, updates and resources on its dedicated web page: rcda.org/coronavirus. In addition, a Faith at Home page includes links to livestreamed Mass, daily Scripture readings, saints of the day, and suggestions for creating a sacred space at home: rcda.org/coronavirus/resources.

The coronavirus which has turned into a worldwide pandemic, has been particularly deadly to older adults and people with underlying medical conditions. There are now 613 confirmed cases in New York State in 17 counties. There are now 167,638 cases of coronavirus worldwide with 6,456 deaths, while 76,596 people have fully recovered.

On Friday, March 13, the Diocese of Albany announced it was suspending the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, but felt it was necessary to take the added step of suspending Mass entirely as health officials urged people to “hunker down.” 

The news comes on the heels of Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing restrictions on large events and gatherings on Thursday, March 12. The restrictions include cancelling or postponing events with 500 or more people in attendance; any gathering under 500 people will be required to cut capacity by 50 percent; only medically necessary visits will be allowed at nursing homes to protect the most vulnerable and the first public, drive-through testing facility on the East Coast in New Rochelle started testing people on Friday, March 13. 

The state has also partnered with BioReference Laboratories to run an additional 5,000 tests per day and they will come online next week. The state also received the approval of the Food and Drug Administration to use 28 private labs to start testing for the coronavirus.

"The spread of this coronavirus is not going to stop on its own, and we know that mass gatherings have been hotspots for the virus to infect large numbers of people quickly," Governor Cuomo said. "To help contain it, we are instituting limits on large events as well as new measures to protect our most vulnerable populations — including people in nursing homes — and preparing our healthcare system to be able to deal with any future capacity issues. While the context is key and the anxiety is outpacing the facts of this situation, we will continue taking aggressive action to protect public health and prepare for any future spread of this virus."  

"Our number one priority is protecting the public health and every action the Governor and the State of New York have taken thus far have been in furtherance of that goal," State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. "Public health experts have been clear that limiting large public gatherings where there is potential for close contact is a critical way to slow the spread of this virus. This regulation will help keep people healthy and safe."

There have been a slew of cancellations and postponements due to the coronavirus, including most St. Patrick’s Day Parades, the NCAA Tournament, The Masters and all major sports leagues have shut down.

Siena College announced Friday that following its extended spring recess, all classes will transition to a remote learning format from March 23-April 8. The college also announced that one of its employees, who has not been on campus since March 6, has tested positive for coronavirus.

“We hope the disease is contained by the end of the Easter holiday and students will be able to finish the academic year together, with classes resuming on campus Tuesday, April 14,” said Margaret E. Madden, Ph.D., interim president. “In the meantime, we must embrace a distance learning model for the protection and well-being of our students and community.”